Indonesia: Retired Generals Discuss ‘Communist Threat’

Arie Firdaus
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160601-symposium-1000 Retired General Sintong Panjaitan speaks at a symposium in Jakarta, June 1, 2015.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

Former military leaders and Islamic groups have united around what they say is a communist resurgence in Indonesia.

An unprecedented government effort to explore national reconciliation over anti-communist purges 50 years ago is encouraging that rebirth, they say.

“There are people who don’t want Indonesia to be united and strong,” Kiki Syahnakri, the former army deputy chief of staff, told a seminar on “the threat of a resurrected PKI” – the acronym for the long-defunct and illegal Communist Party of Indonesia.

“They try to make Indonesia unstable by bringing up the issue of human rights,” he told journalists at the two-day event, which got under way in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Groups attending the event included Ansor, the youth wing of the moderate Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which took an active role in purges in East Java back in the mid-1960s; and the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is known for raiding nightclubs and bars during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“It’s nonsense when people say the PKI is not rising, that they have disappeared. PKI will rise again, they will smash us if we don’t line up [to face them],” FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab said at the symposium, according to Indonesian media outlet Detik.

Another retired general who spoke Wednesday said the government should never apologize – and no reconciliation was necessary.

"If we apologize, we endorse the treason," said Try Sutrisno, who served as vice president to former president Suharto from 1993 to 1998, and is father-in-law of the current Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.

"We've received the PKI members as ordinary citizens. In 2016, all of its sympathizers and descendants have the right to enjoy their life, politically, economically, socially, culturally. Even some became members or leaders in state agencies," he said.

Rival symposiums

The symposium comes on the heels of one staged by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government in April, titled “Dissecting the Tragedy of 1965: A Historical Approach.”

That gathering brought together victims and state officials to discuss the purges that unfolded during the transition between Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, and Suharto, its second.

In October 1965, following an attempted military coup in which six generals were killed, the Indonesian government gave free rein to soldiers and civilian militias to kill anyone they considered a communist.

At least 500,000 people died over the next few months, activists say, including PKI members, ethnic Chinese Indonesians, trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists.

Trauma and stigma lingered for relatives of those killed, who for decades were ineligible for civil servant jobs.

In April, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan challenged civil society groups to reveal the locations of alleged mass graves so that the number of people killed could be confirmed.

In May, activists handed the government a list of 122 mass graves, asking that the sites and witnesses to those deaths be protected.

Recommendations welcomed

Rights activists reacted negatively to the anti-communism symposium.

“In the context of reconciliation, this symposium does not contribute anything,” Yati Andriyani, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), told BenarNews.

The event showed that some groups were not prepared for reconciliation, National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) member Siti Noor Laila said.

"Those generals such as Kiki Syahnakri who organized this symposium – they were invited to the previous event but did not want to attend," Siti said.

Those who oppose reconciliation are wrongly equating it with defense of communism, she said.

"The reality is not about the reconciliation of PKI with other parties. There were crimes against humanity post 1965, and that’s what we want to reconcile," she said.

Amid rising nervousness about communism in the wake of the April symposium, security officials have arrested people suspected of selling books or T-shirts with leftist symbols. Discussions and film screening related to the events of 1965-66 have been closed down.

On Tuesday, police arrested two men in Sukabumi, West Java, for selling T-shirts with the image of a hammer and sickle, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

Contacted by BenarNews, presidential spokesman Johan Budi said the government would study any recommendation issued by the anti-communism symposium.

"We will analyze them, as was done with the recommendations from the previous symposium,” he said.

"The decision on how to resolve the 1965 tragedy will be based on all recommendations. The president will consider them all,” Johan added.

The April symposium committee submitted recommendations to the government on May 18, but to date it has not disclosed what those were.


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